Join us in saluting three absolutely great Austin groups

People’s Community Clinic must have sounded vaguely socialistic to cynics when it was founded in the basement of the Congregational Church on the Drag in 1970. Yet is was not a tool of big government, but rather the gift of volunteer doctors and nurses who realized that students, hippies and just ordinary people needed health care not delivered in the usual ways.

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Eric Copper and Peter Bay at There’s No Such Thing As a Free Lunch for People’s Community Clinic

Now the Austin clinic serves more than 20,000 people a year at a new facility in Northeast Austin and at the People’s Center for Women’s Health located in its older spot on Interstate 35. It’s not a free clinic, as the leaders will remind you, but patients pay what they can on a sliding scale.

For years, it has staged one of the most simple and effective benefits in town known as “There’s No Such Thing As a Free Lunch.” At the Four Seasons Hotel, they honor one public health leader, this year Dr. Philip Huang, who, among other crusades, has made significant progress on tobacco. Then a distinguished guest speaks. Always extremely informative. And this year’s speaker, Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, was no exception, looking at the ways that public health campaigns fit into larger cultural trends in our country. He’s the author of “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.”

If you get a chance, drop in on this crucial Austin event next year.

Hidden Music for Conspirare

Years ago, I wrote something like this in a review: “Critics hate Craig Hella Johnson and Conspirare. They leave nothing to criticize. They are flawless.”

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I must have attended dozens of events put together by this musical group that started out as a festival, morphed into a choir, then became one of the city’s most treasured gems. It is no exaggeration to say that Conspirare comes very close to channeling the soul of the city. It is open, smart, kind, fun and infinitely skillful.

The annual Hidden Music benefit refines all those things down to Johnson himself onstage with a few friends — instrumentalists and vocalists. Johnson’s voice and presentation are uncanny, disorienting and ultimately heavenly. This tightly staged night at One World Theatre, he was joined by his friend Peter Bay of the Austin Symphony, who did not sing, but rather shared with Johnson the joy of conducting Bay wife, Mela Sarajane Dailey, and Laura Mercado-Wright as they sang the Flower Duet from “Lakme.”

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Mela Sarajane Dailey and Laura Mercado-Wright at Hidden Music for Conspirare. Contributed

The evening could have ended right there. But I had the additional pleasure of sharing the dinner portion of the evening with Suzanne Mitchell and Richard Zansitis, who wound together so many Austin and Houston threads that I could have listened to them all night.

Hidden Heroes for Alzheimer’s Texas

One key group, Alzheimer’s Texas, held its first traditional benefit at the same time that I had a longstanding date to tour the amazing Texas Archeological Research Laboratory. Killed me to miss the luncheon, especially because the remarkable Becky Beaver, who cares for her husband, John B. Duncan, Jr., was the honoree.

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Mela Sarajane Dailey, John Duncan and Becky Beaver at Hidden Heroes for Alzheimer’s Texas. Contributed

We were able to snag some of her comments, however, presented here in an edited version.

“As any family who has dealt with this pernicious disease knows, it affects everyone in the family, and suddenly, with no experience and often with very little information, one is thrust into the role of caregiver and it becomes the most important thing you do every single day.

“The early years were scary, as we were very much in denial. John was relatively young, he was so very intelligent, and he took really good care of himself. But we knew that something was happening and we were losing our husband and father in many ways and he was losing the capacity to do so many of the things that he enjoyed in life.

“Everything we tried often seemed like two steps forward and one step back on the good days … the bad days were one step forward and three steps back. I only wish I had known then of Alzheimer’s Texas to help me navigate those perilous times, to provide me the names and referrals to resources who could help  and to assure me that I was not the incompetent I seemed to be most days.

“This organization is the backstop to provide information, to provide referrals, to provide support and to provide encouragement when things seem the darkest and that there really is no hope. They provide hope to those of us who never know what tomorrow will bring, and work closely with professionals and researchers on medical and therapeutic interventions and  in the tireless effort to find a cure.

“Primarily and ultimately,  this award is for John. He is our care partner extraordinaire. He has worked relentlessly to stay active, to stay involved, to stay interested, to stay in the moment. He gamely joins us in whatever we’re doing and wherever we’re going, and he has stood down this disease with such graceful determination. John, we are all so proud of you, and this one’s for you.”


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